April 7, 2001

"Shouts of neighborly greetings and lively scenes of activity and trade were on every hand. The language was-well it wasn't English. German, the shrill Bohemian, the excitable French, and the happy Belgian made a bedlam that was akin to a riot." The 1860s Wisconsin traveler climbed the hill and asked the way to Kewaunee and was given directions, "in a brogue so rich it could be cut with a knife." This village on the Lake Michigan side of the Door Peninsula, like many others on the Inland Seas of the United States and Canada, was a melting pot of cultures. Early tales told of a bloody battle fought atop the lake bluffs among two native tribes, in which one was entirely wiped out, but once the Europeans began filtering into this area at the mouth of the Kewaunee River, co-operation seems to have been the by-word. Kewaunee, by the way, may mean "go around'. Or it may be Algonquin for "wild duck".Your choice.

The trickle of Europeans accelerated rapidly when, in the 1830s, someone spotted glittering rocks in the clear water at the bottom of the river. Self-proclaimed experts agreed it almost had to be gold and rumors flew. Now that upstart town at the southern end of the lake would see what a real boom town was like. Take the wind out of their sails! Lots were hurriedly laid out and land sales took off, with property values soon reaching $1000 an acre. Even John Jacob Astor and future Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase made inquiries. Rich deposits of gold never did turn up, but area residents soon turned their idled hands to other enterprises. Mills were built on the river and cargoes of lumber began arriving from the interior. Three bridges soon spanned the Kewaunee. When the Great Lakes schooner _Rochester_ arrived in 1847 she had to anchor offshore. Nine years later the sidewheeler _Cleveland_ was able to pull up to a real pier to pick up passengers and goods, bound for Green Bay and ports up and down the lake. A second pier was built three years after that and plans got underway to further develop the harbor, but the Civil War would postpone those plans until the 1880s. In 1870 the Great Peshtigo Fire roared toward Kewaunee, but was doused by a rainstorm just as it reached the outskirts. The settlement became a village in 1872, a city in 1883.

As new modes of transportation emerged Kewaunee kept pace. In 1891 the Kewaunee, Green Bay and Western Railroad was completed. The following year saw the debut of the Lake Michigan car ferries. Though they were originally built to carry railroad 'cars', the introduction of the horseless carriage in the following decades would expand service to another kind of car. Most of these lake vessels have passed into memory, but car ferry service between Kewaunee and Luddington, Michigan, is still very much alive. One of the long-idled, double-decker ferries is still a topic of conversation. At least what's left of her is. Like her namesake, the Straits of Mackinaw, she connected Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. The 196-foot vessel plied the choppy waters of the strait for close to 30 years. Elevators at the docks would carry some automobiles to the second deck for the crossing and reverse the process at the other end. The accidental death of a female passenger caused the elevators to be closed. The completion of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 eliminated the run and the ferry was sold to a series of owners, finally ending up in 1996 moored at Kewaunee. Destined for the scrap heap, she may yet live to serve one final purpose - several groups have suggested sinking her in place, as a recreational diving site and a reminder of a passing world.

For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor




Aaah-oooooo-gah!!!! No, don't run over to give me the Heimlich maneuver. That's a very approximate imiation of the old auto horns, back in the days when you wore an ankle-length coat, a natty hat pulled down over your ears and thick goggles to keep the dust (and worse, it WAS still the horse age) out of your eyes. If you want to relive these days, motor on over to the Detroit Historical Museum at:
You'll get a tour of the horseless carriage era from the first car in Detroit to the interior of a 1910 machine shop, from Ransom E. Olds to the intriguingly-named body drop. And all of this illustrated with great vintage photographs of the period. And, if old cars don't turn your crank or spark your plugs, check out other Detroit subjects at the museum's home page -


The Game's Afoot ! !

©2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte